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Who’s on Second?





Why so many first-rate leaders are “settling” for No. 2 roles
President George W. Bush told a news reporter after being questioned about Vice President Dick Cheney, "The vice president and I can have a meeting, and I can share with him what is on my mind and my plans and know that it will not appear in the newspapers the next morning." The trend in the Bush administration has been to empower the cabinet and let them lead and make decisions. He almost always stands behind them.

Many Americans consider Cheney the most powerful vice president in history. Why? Because of his commitment to the president's agenda and his commitment not to run for the office of the president when Bush's term expires.

The Bush presidency has brought to public awareness the trend of second-in-command leaders who wield unusual power and influence in their respective spheres—and the church would do well to pay attention to this growing phenomenon.

But what are the benefits of a strong second-in-command leader?

1. They can provide the relational contacts for administration and oversight for the No. 1.
2. They provide leadership to the lower levels of the organization and the motivation that goes with it.
3. Their present influence is indispensable to the organization and will only become greater in the absence of the presiding leader.
4. They may be responsible for a major part of the present team members, through hiring and promotion. Their decisions on upward movement of employees create the organizational chart placements.
4. Seconds in command have passed an endurance test. They withstood growth, change, transitions and lean times and possess the mettle to lead.

The Power of Two

The second in command must understand that he is not the visionary who sets the course of the organization. To work best, he or she must have the "Dick Cheney philosophy": "I serve at the pleasure of the president—" … implying "—and no one else."

The first in command must not only recognize this, but empower the second in command to actually carry out his or her agenda. For instance, a friend of mine ran a small family business that experienced incredible growth. While he intuitively knew that he could not run the expanding business as he had in the past, he found it difficult to release a second in command to accomplish tasks that made him most comfortable and successful when his business had been small.

This led him to burnout and organizational dysfunction, eventually causing my friend to work even harder in the business at those things he used to do, compounding his problem. In the end, the business shrank to its former size. A key role for the second in command is to free up the No. 1 to further the vision and mission of the organization.

Dressed for Succession

Although some, like Cheney, have no aspirations for vocational advancement, seconds in command are many times in a position to move into the top job when the No. 1 moves on—reinforcing the maxim, "Ultimate success is having a great successor."

Trends in many of today's business environments and churches focus on the qualifications and development of subordinate leaders and managers. Making sure that the employee and company—as well as the position—is the right fit, versus just getting another warm and available body to fill the empty spot, is the new norm. Matching attitudes with the overall vision and persona of the enterprise as well as providing empowering opportunities for high-level employees is crucial to long-term success.

In many successful churches in the United States, pastors have surrounded themselves with highly qualified entrepreneurial leaders who add value to the church as individuals as well as being members of the ministry team.

Examples of this are Andy Stanley and Louie Giglio at Northpoint Church in Alpharetta, Georgia; Ted Haggard and Ross Parsley at New Life Church in Colorado Springs; Bill Hybels, Gene Appel and Mike Breaux at Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago. In fact, Appel and Breaux were each the pastor of large churches but resigned their own pastorates to join the Willow Creek team.

Power Sharing

In the airline industry, Southwest has set the pace for growth and profitability by delegating decision making to worker/management committees instead of top-down management controls.

In an article at www.motivation-tools.com, Robert L. Webb writes; "Southwest Airlines is growing—and other airlines have noticed. They are trying to implement worker responsibility programs of their own. The choice is to move decision-making responsibility (empowerment) to the front-line or go out of business. The days of command-and-control leadership are over."

A failure to share power by giving authority to those under us is an invitation for revolt. More than a year before the Disney management shakeup, Warren Bennis said in his article in the March 1, 2004, issue of CIO/Insight, "I am always amazed when leaders cling to strategies that don't work. The Walt Disney Company is currently facing a revolt let by Roy Disney. His contention: That Disney CEO Michael Eisner has hurt the company by 'consistent micro-management' and by his unwillingness to share power."

Second-in-command leaders can provide the support and human networking needed for top leaders to succeed. Empowering them and sharing the credit openly for success of the organization is better insurance than closing them out and minimizing their contribution.

Joseph C. Santora wrote in the April 30, 2005, issue of Non-Profit World, "Seconds in command who assume the top leadership position may not always be dynamic, nor a 'replacement' for a charismatic leader or founder; however, they can create a thriving environment for their organizations through their commitment. They should be given the right of first refusal."

As teams are developed and individuals get to work more closely with first-in-command leaders, I believe the trend will be that these seconds in command and other subordinate leaders and managers will become more visible and openly credited with their contribution to the organization.


Billy Hornsby is director of the Association of Related Churches (www.related churches.com), and the author of Success for the Second in Command: Leading from the Second Chair.

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